The colours of festivity of the celebration of the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's independence mean very little to the families of four Biranganas (women freedom fighters) in Shariatpur as they still have to fight against extreme poverty.
The four Biranganas – Jog Maya, Jugolbala Poddar, Sumitra Malo, Vanu Bibi – lost everything during the liberation war of 1971 in which they fought for their motherland. Two of them have already died.
The irony of fate is that, after 50 years of independence, their families still live in inhuman condition. The state has not done enough to change their impoverished lives.
"Once I lived by begging. I also worked as a housemaid in others' houses. I am still suffering. I do not own the land or the house that I live in. I still dream of a house of my own," said Jog Maya from Shariatpur's Madhyapara village, who still bears the wounds of torture by the Pakistani army.
During the liberation war, the Pakistani army carried out a massacre in the Hindu-majority village Madhyapara. Many houses were set on fire, numerous women and men were taken away. In Madaripur ARR Hawladar Jute Mill, men were killed and women were brutally tortured.
"One day in 1971, during the war, the Pakistani army personnel arrived at our home and grabbed my neck while I was preparing to cook at noon in my kitchen. They took everyone from the house to the Madaripur Jute Mill. They killed my three brothers-in-law on the way," said Jog Maya, recalling the horrible memories that she had to face during the war.
"We were mercilessly tortured for three days. Many were killed. People were crying in horror. We were released after three days. While we returned to our village, we found our houses burned," she added.
Two Biranganas of the village – Jugol Bala Poddar and Sumitra Malo – died before getting recognition from the state for their contribution during the war. Their children are still suffering from poverty. The independent country that their mothers sacrificed for has not brought them any hope to transform their fate.
Jugol Bala Poddar died in 2011. She was recognised as a freedom fighter in 2018, seven years after her death. Her son Ratan Poddar still lives in a house owned by one of his relatives. He could not build his own house due to poverty.
"I was eight years old during the liberation war. The Pakistani army captured my mother, father and uncle. They killed my father and uncle beside the river," said Ratan.
"Mother raised me and my siblings with enormous hardship during her lifetime. Then she died when we were grown up. I have not been able to build my own house as my income from a tea stall is not enough. I even cannot afford to bear the full expenses of my children's education," he added.
Sumitra Malo was pregnant in 1971. She was also captured by the Pakistani army along with her two daughters aged nine and 11. They were also released after brutal torture. She gave birth to a disabled child while taking shelter in a house in the village. The baby died a few days later.
Sumitra's husband also died several years later. Sumitra raised her three daughters by fighting severe poverty. At last, she died in 2014.
Bina Malo, daughter of Sumitra, said, "My mother died with pain in her heart. She had not received any help or recognition from the government during her lifetime. She was recognised as a freedom fighter two years after her death. Now we get government allowances."
Vanu Bibi, another Birangana from the Kodalpur union of Gosairhat upazila, is still alive. But she left her village for the capital as there was no place for her to live. Now, she lives in the Garib-e-Newaz slum in Mirpur, Dhaka. She has spent the last 50 years in sorrow and poverty.
"I helped the Muktibahini during the liberation war. I used to carry arms, news and food for them. One day the Pakistani army attacked the house of a freedom fighter. I was also there. The military captured me and tortured me to get information about other freedom fighters. But I did not tell anything," said Vanu Bibi via telephone.
"I spent my whole life in suffering even after the country's liberation. I raised my children in severe poverty. Although I live in a slum, I still feel proud because we have got an independent country," she said.
Shariatpur Deputy Commissioner Parvez Hasan said, "It is a matter of regret that the families of these Biranganas are still helpless even after 50 years of independence. The suffering of those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the country is intolerable. A proposal to build Bir Nibas for them has been sent to the ministry."